It took six long hard years, but Anthony Ashnault has finally reached his goal. The South Plainfield native was already Rutgers University's winningest and most decorated wrestler heading into the 2019 NCAA Division I wrestling tournament, but after his victory on Saturday night, he can call himself a national titlist.
Ashnault earned a 9-4 win over Micah Jordan (Ohio State) in the final of the 149-pound bracket to take a first place finish. Ashnault and teammate Nick Suriano have been making Scarlet Knight history for years, but on Saturday they produced arguably the greatest night in Rutgers wrestling history, if not Rutgers athletics history, as Suriano became the first Rutgers wrestling' national titlist just two bouts before Ashnault's finals win.
The crushing top control of the top-seeded Ashanult has been a difference maker in the 149-pound bracket all tournament and it proved to be a factor in the championship match as well. The former South Plainfield High School standout used a second period takedown to erase an early 1-0 deficit that was caused by hands to the face call in the opening period. Ashnault rode out Jordan, a second-seed, for the rest of the second period and briefly threatened the Ohio State standout with a tilt attempt.
With 1:35 of riding time and a 2-1 lead, Ashnault chose bottom in the third period. Jordan let Ashnault up and then landed a takedown of his own to make it a 4-3 match in Ashnault's favor, but an escape, and a takedown off a cradle with one minute left gave Ashnault five points, which sealed the victory.
"I'm just blessed to have this opportunity', Ashnualt said to ESPN right after the win. "I went out there and performed my best, and good things happened."
Ashnault ends his year with an undefeated record and his collegiate career with a 123-18 record.
Suriano, a third-seed, took home Rutgers' first NCAA title, by edging out rival Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) with a 4-2 overtime win in the 133-pound finals.
Suriano and Fix's first matchup, in the regular season, was a controversial affair that saw Fix take a one-point win after Suriano was penalized by a hands to the face call. The NCAA final seemed like it might end in even more controversial terms as Suriano was hit for a stall point in the first rideout in overtime, which gave Fix a 2-1 lead. Suriano maintained his composure through, and hit an escape in the second rideout and then landed a match-deciding takedown in the second sudden victory. Oklahoma State coach John Smith threw out a challenge call, arguing that Suriano illegally grabbed his wrestler's head gear during the takedown, but the refs maintained the call.
Prior to Suriano's win, the last Rutgers athlete to win an NCAA title was fencer Alexis Jemal in 2003.